To reach Hana Choi's 96B Experiment, first walk through the ground floor parking courtyard. Past the kick-stood motorbikes, through the front door of Cyrus Saigon, the small-batch patisserie and chocolaterie with which it shares a building, and up the stairs, you'll find Ho Chi Minh City's under the radar brick-backed coffee oasis.
Elsewhere in Vietnam's economic capital, the specialty movement is blooming. Cafe and roastery owners here are leveraging the country's role as a producer of quality coffee to turn out an ever-improving range of varieties, primarily grown in the central Lam Dong province. Hand dripping brew methods on the Hario V60, AeroPress, and Kalita Wave and serving options black marks a major departure from what's thought of as traditional Vietnamese coffee, which is often roasted dark and sweetened with condensed milk. And while many of the city's most prominent specialty cafes are known for their filter coffees, 96B Experiment has made a name for itself with a more playful range of signature drinks.
Opened in 2016 by Choi in partnership with husband Cong Nguyen, who runs Cyrus Saigon, 96B Experiment is a way to share not just the product, but the experience of coffee with customers. The coffee itself is roasted in house on either a 200g Fuji Royal Discovery roaster or 5kg Probat—unless it comes courtesy of a third-party roaster like The Coffee Collective. Choi's espresso drinks are based on a naturally processed Catimor from Lam Dong called “Lot #49,” and brewed on a Nuova Simonelli Aurelia II.
The name 96B Experiment refers to the iteration each signature drink undergoes before making its way onto the menu. According to Choi, she and her baristas work for weeks on offerings like the “Hardcore,” which can be ordered either as is, with espresso, lime juice, and rosemary or with a shot of vodka as the “Hardcore by Night.” Most of 96B Experiment's standouts are based on its cold brew, which blends Lot #49 espresso with distinctive Liberica beans. Lesser known than either Arabica or Robusta, Liberica is an heirloom coffee that carries a pungent aroma. In 96B Experiment's drinks, it adds a sweet, complex, and milk-chocolate-like aftertaste.
Choi and her crew are creative with cold brew. They offer everything from Cold Brew Lattes to Rosé Cold Brew—which is blended with rose extract and soda. The Summer Cold Brew mixes in coconut juice, lychee crystals, and ginger leaf. To 96B Experiment, the exploration is endless, and many seasonal drinks are off-menu—here, it pays to ask the barista what they prefer.
Non-coffee drinks are also available, including matcha, hot chocolate, and soda. 96B's soda drinks carry a flavor profile resembling their signature cold brew, without the coffee. For those with a sweet tooth, a few canelés, chocolate cookies, or a brownie from downstairs are always available to accompany a drink.
And of course, since this is Ho Chi Minh City, as much as are the hand-crafted chocolates, built-in moto parking is a major deal-sweetener.
Tung Nguyen is a freelance journalist based in Vietnam. Read more Tung Nguyen for Sprudge.